By Aileen Martinez Carper, Director of Executive Communications, ADP
Giving back was always a part of my life -- until it wasn't. Life got busy, and before I knew it, I had scheduled myself out of doing anything that didn't directly involve my immediate family or my career. Don't get me wrong -- those are pretty universal priorities. Still, somewhere along the line, I stopped holding myself accountable for contributing to the world around me.
Then, a graduate school project led me to Passaic County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) in Wayne, New Jersey. Once I learned how they help the most vulnerable children in my own community, I could no longer look away and claim I was too busy to do something. I started helping with communications planning, and now, I'm proud to be on their Board of Trustees. Through this experience, I have come to realize that sharing my voice is not just nice to do, it can help change a life.
Imagine if your voice was ignored, and you had no one to stand up for you.
For the more than 600,000 children in foster care in the U.S., having a voice means survival. It means hope for a promising future. Unfortunately, the voices of children in foster care are often lost in the shuffle of family dynamics and legal limbo that sets their lives on a roller coaster ride toward an uncertain future. Many are stuck in the child welfare system until they age out, only to transition into adulthood with the cards stacked against them.
But there's hope...
Organizations, like CASA, provide hope and deliver life-changing results. As a chapter of a national organization, Passaic County CASA trains and guides volunteers who are sworn in as Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs). They become the voice of the child in court. Their recommendations can be the difference between giving children stability or leaving them to languish at the mercy of a system that's spread so thin -- their voices don't have a chance to be heard.
One Court Appointed Special Advocate who I met was juggling her own busy household, but, she said, she had to do something to help the children in foster care who live in her community. I asked her about the emotional toll of managing tough cases, she shared the advice of one of CASA's leaders, who told her, "you can be sad about it, or you can do something to help." I was inspired by many stories like hers, people who made the choice. Rather than lamenting heart-wrenching stories about children who are abused and neglected, they took action.
Children in foster care who are appointed an advocate are four times more likely to graduate high school than those without one.
Finding and funding enough volunteers is an ongoing challenge.
Thanks to CASAs in communities across the country, more children have a chance at a better tomorrow. Nationally, there are nearly 87,000 CASA volunteers serving more than 280,000 children. The sad reality is that many children in foster care don't receive the support of an advocate. The need is great, but CASA's impact is monumental -- improving the trajectory of a child's life. With CASA, children spend less time in foster care, and they are less likely to re-enter the system. Children in foster care who are appointed an advocate are four times more likely to graduate high school than those without one.
How can you help?
You can help in a number of ways, including:
- Get informed. Learn about the challenges and opportunities facing children in foster care in your community. CASA holds information sessions and events throughout the year.
- Become an ambassador. Share the stories of children in foster care and how these advocates are able to make a difference in their lives. Spreading the word helps increase support.
- Donate time and/or money. It costs an estimated $2,000 per child per year to recruit, train and supervise advocates, and organizations, like CASA, rely on donations to achieve their mission.
- Become an advocate. As a Court-Appointed Special Advocate, you can be a gift to a child in foster care by providing a voice for them, making sure they have a shot at living the best life possible and helping them find their own voice along the way.